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9/11 Firefighter Survivors Share Their Story with Scale Facilitation®

On Wednesday 7th December, with members of the Australian and United States teams gathered at the newly minted One World Trade Center office on the 82nd floor, Scale Facilitation® welcomed three special guests to share their unique stories of survival and service during and in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Colonel U.S. Army (Ret.) Patrick (Pat) Mahaney, FDNY Firefighter 1st Grade Salvatore (Sal) D’Agostino, and FDNY Firefighter (Ret) William (Billy) Carlson joined the team in the office to speak on their first-person experience of the disaster and recovery effort of 9/11 at the World Trade Centre site.

The talk began with Pat sharing his experience in the military and passing around three artifacts of relevance. The first item he passed around was Stone Soup, a 1947 picture book by Marcia Brown that displays the benefits of sharing to everyone who contributes. The second item was a patch displaying a soldier and a firefighter holding an American flag, depicting the first (firefighters) and second (military) responses to the tragedy. The final and perhaps most moving item Pat shared with the group was a thick fragment of glass collected from the rubble of the twin towers.

Through this piece of glass, a relic he has carried through war zones, Pat views the world. He said it was through this piece of glass he is reminded of the fragility of safety and blindsides that can occur in amongst the everyday.

Sal has a particularly unique story, being part of a team on the ground who were directed to get as far up the building and help as many people as they could.

Sal and his team reached floor 27 of the North Tower wearing over 100 pounds (45kg) of gear and made it back to the center stairwell of the 4th floor by the time the tower fell. Sal was trapped in a void with himself, thirteen other firefighters, and miracle 9/11 survivor, Josephine Harris. Sal reiterated the importance of Josephine – their “guardian angel” for slowing their pace down to such that they were in the only pocket of area spared during the building’s collapse – if they had been any slower or faster, they would not have made it.

After many hours, the firefighters were directed to self-evacuate, with a new crew coming in to save Josephine. Sal described being the last one to leave Josephine and imploring the new crew to treat her with the utmost respect and reverie, that of a true survivor. “Her name is Josephine.”

Billy was part of the recovery effort once the second tower had fallen. For Billy, the day started normally enough, moving his car in the morning and viewing the plume of smoke coming from the north tower, the first to be hit, interrupting a perfect blue sky.

Once Billy reached “the pile,” which was mainly dust and debris, 110 floors pulverized into the space of four, his father, the Chief on the ground, directed the firefighters to avoid going into the pile to rescue anyone until Tower 7, then still standing, had fallen. The decision was made in hopes of avoiding more casualties, although many of the firefighters were more concerned with rescuing their kin rather than their own safety.

Billy, like many on the ground that day, felt a duty to the civilians and fellow firefighters – his brothers – and was angry he could not go in and help immediately. “Okay Chief,” was his response to his father. Later that day, when Tower 7 fell, Billy recalled the immense gratitude he had for his father’s decision, one which saved his life.

After both firefighters spoke, Paul Gyulivary – invited by Scale Facilitation® to New York as the twin brother of Geelong-man, Peter Gyulivary, who perished on the 91st floor of the south tower during the attacks, and who has since had the Scale Facilitation® veterans lounge named after him in tribute – stood up to thank the firefighters for their attempt to save his brother. Paul also thanked Pat, who was working in the rubble to retrieve bodies the day Peter’s body was recovered 8 weeks later, on Thanksgiving 2001.

Pat, Sal, and Billy took the team on a walking tour of the World Trade Centre complex, where the Scale Facilitation® team had the opportunity to ask questions of the three special guests. The tour included the north and south reflection pools, which lay in the exact footprint of the towers and symbolize the immense hole left in New York after the attacks.

Both Sal and Billy shared their thoughts on the memorial, with Billy sharing a memory of being on the pile in the immediate wake of the attacks wondering what may come for the land on which he stood, surrounded by devastation.

From the reflection pools, Pat, Sal, and Billy took the group to the FDNY Memorial Wall at Ten House – a 56-foot-long and six-foot-high bronze memorial bolted to the side of the firehouse with ‘MAY WE NEVER FORGET’ emblazoned on it.

The group was also led to Liberty Park, an elevated area where the Koenig Sphere now sits, overlooking the 9/11 memorial. The 25-foot bronze sculpture once sat, for 30 years, in the World Trade Centre Plaza and miraculously survived, despite severe damage, the events of September 11, 2001.

As much as the events of 9/11 show devastation and distress, there are also beacons of hope and light that shine through, much like the Koenig Sphere. Firefighters from around the world flew in to attend the funerals of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on that day. Sal and Billy explained that there were not enough FDNY firefighters to attend every funeral – a must-have show of respect in the industry – so firefighters from across the world flew in to show up in uniform.

What united each story from Pat, Sal, and Billy was a thread of unity and camaraderie, not just for being survivors of that harrowing day, but for being members of an institution bolstered by years of enduring loyalty and brotherhood – the FDNY. Their stories displayed the composure, loyalty, and organization these brave souls held even in times of unbearable stress and pressure.

Scale Facilitation® is extremely honored to have been able to hear the stories of Pat, Sal, and Billy – three incredibly strong and courageous men – and be able to host them in the One World Trade Centre.


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